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Amateur Wine Taste-Along: Pinot Gris

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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

We don't know how sweltering your summer has been, but this Amateur Wine Group is sticking to white wines for awhile; it may be a few months before we venture back into red territory. Last time, we tasted our way through quite a few bottles of cold, crisp Vinho Verde. This week? Pinot Gris.

What's It Called?

You may be more familiar with Pinot Grigio than Pinot Gris—but they're actually the same grape. Generally speaking, wines made from this varietal are called Pinot Grigio if they're from Italy (or made in the Italian style) and Pinot Gris if they're from France or made in the French style.

That many of you probably hear "Pinot Grigio" more often than "Pinot Gris" is a reflection of how much of this wine comes out of Italy; specifically, the northern regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto-Adige. Those wines tend to be particularly light and crisp, a style that's emulated in California, where some wines of this kind are also labeled Pinot Grigio. The grape is now grown all over the world, but two other areas of particular note are the Alsace region of France and the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

As that "Pinot" might tip you off, Pinot Gris stemmed from a mutation in the Pinot noir grape; its skin can have a grayish tinge, explaining the "gris" in its name.

Alsace, France: Albert Mann, Leon Beyer

Pinot Gris grows best in cooler areas, which is why it thrives in Alsace, in the northeast of France. Of the major Pinot Gris-producing regions, Alsace produces the fullest, richest wines; some of these wines are intended to age, rather than be enjoyed early, as many Pinot Gris are.

We're trying two Alsatian wines this week: Albert Mann Pinot Gris "Rosenberg" 2008 ($22), an organic producer based in Wettolsheim; and Leon Beyer Pinot Gris 2007 ($22), from a centuries-old family producer in the village of Eguisheim.

Northern Italy: Santa Margherita, Alois Lageder, d'Orsaria

While more southern regions of Italy would be too warm for the grape, the northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto-Adige produce a ton—more than anywhere else in the world. Their wines are generally light in body, light in color, and crisp; although the region does produce an awful lot of cheap, unimpressive stuff, there are much better winemakers as well.

The Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2009 ($15) is from the southern part of the Alto Adige appellation, where Italy climbs into the Alps. Given the moutainous terrain, there's a huge variation in growing conditions; these vineyards are at around 1,000 feet of elevation. Another widely available (and oft-advertised) option from Alto Adige is Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio 2010 ($20). And while we're exploring northern Italy, we'll also try the d'Orsaria Pinot Grigio 2010 ($12) from Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Oregon: King Estate, Ponzi

Oregon is often thought of as the American home of Pinot Gris, the first vines in the nation planted there in 1966. Established with the clear objective of promoting Pinot Gris in the United States, King Estate is now the country's largest single producer of it. We're trying the King Estate Signature Pinot Gris 2010 ($15), though we may also throw one of their higher-end bottles in the mix to see if it's worth ponying up the extra cash. For one more Oregon, we'll taste the Ponzi Pinot Gris 2010 ($15). We really enjoyed the Oregon Pinot Gris from Montinore Estate that was served at our Sandwichfest last week, so we're excited to taste these other bottles.

Taste With Us!

Grab a few bottles of Pinot Gris and meet us back here next week!

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